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I am very grateful for the support I have received over social media in the wake of George Floyd’s death and widespread protests against racial injustice. Although I am a very private person, I feel it is important to share some of my experiences as a black man outdoors, as a photographer, and living in a van. The sad truth is I always feel a little scared and extra weight on my shoulders.

Even when I am out photographing black and grizzly bears I am more afraid of being harassed or killed by people.

I have been pulled aside by both rangers and “Photographer Patties” and asked to abide by rules no one else around me is following.

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I have been pulled over by cops and asked how could I afford a Mercedes Sprinter van.

I was stopped by rangers because a white lady reported I stole a cellphone and kidnapped someone. With no one around and while carrying multiple tripods and 20 pounds of camera equipment, I was still forced to prove I was just a photographer.

While in a private community, visiting my dad in San Francisco, I sat in my van overlooking the skyline. Suddenly we were surrounded by more than a dozen cops, many with guns drawn. I had to explain to each new officer arriving on scene why I was there. My driver’s license clearly listing an address on the same street.

While eating lunch outside an apartment building and private tennis complex (where I worked) I was surrounded and accused of casing houses and using a nice van as cover.

In Lake Tahoe I was accused of shooting bears (with guns) and using the van to transport their dead bodies.

I have been asked what I am doing in an area and what I am concealing under my puffy jacket while hiking in the winter.

I have been the only photographer told to move because there were too many people photographing in an area even when I was first on the scene.

I have been the only photographer asked to move their vehicle and forced to park over quarter mile away.

These are some of the experiences I have had in the past four years. Fortunately they are small compared to what I faced growing up. However, while I am older and stronger, they still weigh heavily on me. They always affect my thoughts and decisions on where and when to travel, I never feel absolutely free.

You can see Tsalani’s work on his Instagram page and his website


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